Everyone loves music. And most people can never get enough of it. But how do you discover new music to add to your collection? In a world as filled with endless musical options as ours is today, it can be difficult to sift through the sounds and find what really speaks to you.
Most articles that advise you on how to discover new music focus on just a few of the most obvious resources: Radio, Spotify, maybe some new apps and ideas from friends or family. But there are so many more avenues out there that can lead you to something entirely different. I thought about all the many ways I’ve discovered music in the last 15 years and compiled this list of ways to find that new artist or new album you were subconsciously looking for. They worked for me, and hopefully you’ll be just as successful.
Here are 20 ways you can discover new music:
1. Radio & Streaming
This is perhaps the most obvious and most common way to discover music. For decades, radio has been the number one introducer of new songs and artists you otherwise wouldn’t have heard. But perhaps more helpful is this tip: Listen to different channels than you usually tune into. There are plenty of stations out there, and you don’t have to limit yourself to the latest Hot 100 pop singles. Try tuning into some classic rock, adult contemporary, alternative rock, or your local college radio. Or get really wild and try oldies, country, classical music, or jazz. I like to bounce between the pop, rock, “mixed bag” stations, and college radio. Even with just slight variations, I tend to find a pretty good array of music crossing a decent range of genres.
MTV & VH1 YouTube
And here is the second most obvious option on this list. When I first started really getting into pop/rock music around 2004, I was obsessed with music videos. I spent every weekend and summer morning watching MTV and VH1, and it formed my musical foundation. Thanks to my music video addiction, I became a fan of Green Day, Kelly Clarkson, Evanescence, Hoobastank, Maroon 5, Gwen Stefani, Fall Out Boy, Natasha Bedingfield, and countless other artists that were big in those first few years of my teens. Those songs and artists still hold a special place in my heart, and I will always love music videos and the now-extinct music channels.
Nowadays, we can’t rely on those once-amazing channels to provide any music whatsoever (RIP), but we do have YouTube to take their place. You have to be a bit more proactive now though, and choose which video to chase down the YouTube rabbit hole. I’ve used YouTube to check out artists I was considering adding to my collection – most recently, after spending a solid hour watching Lana Del Rey videos, I went ahead and bought two of her albums on the strength of the singles I heard in her videos. If you have a little time to explore the many videos on YouTube, check out where you end up.
3. Listen to Family & Friends
One of the best places to discover new music is with the people you see every day. Your friends and family aren’t just good for imparting wisdom and having a good time – they can also have a great playlist of artists that you don’t know. Your parents and older relatives come from a whole different generation when music may have been totally different than what you’re used to. Your siblings and friends could know the latest new artists or the most underground bands that you haven’t heard on the radio yet.
I’ve gotten a lot of music from my parents. They grew up on Van Halen, Supertramp, the Steve Miller Band, and tons of other ’80s rock and introduced all of that to my sister and me. Perhaps more surprisingly, my mom discovered Paramore one day when she was driving home from work and insisted that we buy their album, Riot! Eight years later and we’ve seen Paramore in concert together and they’re still one of our favorite bands. My husband has introduced me to all kinds of metal and classic rock, and I have many new favorite bands that I never would have gotten into on my own: Alice In Chains, Metallica, Ghost, Toto, Deep Purple, Opeth, and Devin Townsend Project are just some of the latest additions to my expanding music collections.
Talk to your family and friends – you may be surprised at what you end up loving!
4. Buy Albums, Not Just Singles
This one may seem obvious, but so many people hear a single on the radio and and just buy that song and end it on that. I myself am guilty of this sometimes, I admit: Back in 2007 I loved Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good,” but I didn’t have the sense to get the whole album. I just bought the song and enjoyed that for seven years before it dawned on me that I might like more of Amy’s songs. I finally bought Back To Black in late 2014, finding I love the title track, “Tears Dry On Their Own,” “Love Is A Losing Game,” “Just Friends”…. basically the whole album. It’s better late than never.
Whenever you hear a good song on the radio or in a movie, don’t stop there. Get the whole album! Buy the full record on iTunes or at your local store, stream all the tracks on Spotify, however you want to do it… as long as you give the other songs a chance. Singles aren’t always (or even usually) the best songs on the album, and you may find you love some of the other songs, too. Go ahead and look through your current music collection and see if you have any one-off artists you’d like to explore further.
5. Dig Deeper
Once you’ve become enamored with a new album, push it further and get the rest of their albums. Don’t just buy Green Day’s American Idiot – go back and get Dookie, Insomniac, Nimrod, and Warning. If there’s a deluxe edition with bonus tracks, choose that one over the boring, limiting standard edition. Collect the whole back catalog and keep up on new records they may release. Keep an eye out for non-standard albums as well – EPs, live albums, rarities compilations, and greatest hits collections can all include some great new songs you’ll like.
But that’s not all: Most artists don’t just have a few albums and that’s it. Nearly all of the bands and singers I listen to also have standalone singles, songs featured on compilation albums, collaborations with another artists, and more. Back in the day physical singles would usually come with a b-side or two, and those tracks were almost always as good as – or even better than – the album tracks.
And that’s just the officially released songs. If you know where to look, you can often find some amazing songs that your favorite artist performed live but never recorded, leaked demos, and other rarities. There’s plenty out there, and most every song is worth the listen.
6. Buy Compilation Albums
As a music geek, I feel the need to collect every song ever recorded by my favorite artists. Plenty of great songs end up just being released on a compilation album – perhaps for a movie, TV show, or charity function. Luckily, this has led me to some great new artists. Back in 2006 or 2007, I had been a fan of Gavin DeGraw for at least a year and was hungrily searching for more music by him. He only had the one album, but I soon discovered that he had a new song called “Jealous Guy” on the One Tree Hill volume 2 soundtrack. (I later figured out “Jealous Guy” was actually a cover… more on that later.) The soundtrack was on iTunes, but it listed all the songs as “album only,” so the only way I’d get Gavin’s song was to purchase the whole album. I shelled out the money, and now I’m glad I did: After I’d had the compilation on my iTunes for a few months, I actually bothered to listen to the other songs that came with “Jealous Guy.” Thanks to that album-only situation, I discovered amazing songs by bands I never knew before – songs like “The Mixed Tape” by Jack’s Mannequin and “Feeling A Moment” by Feeder.
Although I loved those two songs, it took me a while to move to the next step, but eventually I got there. In early 2009, I finally decided I needed more Jack’s Mannequin songs than just “The Mixed Tape” and bought their albums Everything In Transit and The Glass Passenger. Then I learned that frontman Andrew McMahon was previously in Something Corporate and got their albums. Now I follow Andrew McMahon to every new music project, and he’s one of my favorite musicians. And it’s all thanks to buying a random compilation album for just one song.
When your favorite singer collaborates with another artist, that’s a great opportunity to get into some new music. Whether it’s a duet that appears on your favorite singer’s album or on the other person’s album, that artist often has plenty more music that you may enjoy. A few years ago, the single “Somebody That I Used To Know” was unavoidable. I ended up getting Gotye’s album, but then I thought maybe the featured artist, Kimbra, could be worth checking out too. I got Kimbra’s record and actually enjoyed it even more. Not every collaborator will be someone you’ll end up enjoying, but you never know what good music they might have.
This doesn’t just go for singers, either. You can also check out the band’s guitarist, bassist, drummer, and more and see who else they may play with. On the flip side, also keep tabs on who ends up playing in your favorite band and see if that musician has other great projects.
Say your favorite band covers a song by some other artist. You may want to look up the artist they covered and check out their version. And if you like what you hear, you could venture into some other songs and even a whole album. After Green Day covered “We Are The Champions” in 2005, I looked into Queen and discovered that I loved all their other songs, too. (And who doesn’t love Queen??) When someone you love covers a song, see if there’s more to enjoy.
Or perhaps the reverse happens: Say a newer artist covers one of your favorite singer’s biggest hits. That new artist clearly has good taste – maybe they have good original songs, too? Check them out and see if they’re someone you’d like to listen to.
9. See Openers at Concerts
Going to concerts is a must for most music lovers. I’ve always enjoyed watching the openers and, if I like what I hear, I’ll make a mental note to check them out later. This usually works well, because openers tend to have some similarities to the headliners you’re actually there to see. If you love the headliner, the usually newer or less famous opener often has plenty to offer that will be right up your alley. On the other hand, sometimes the opening band is pretty different, and that’s okay too. Diversity is fun.
One of my recent examples is when I saw Gavin DeGraw on tour in 2014. Mary Lambert was the opener, and I’m really glad I got to hear her songs. I’d already heard of her, thanks to her part in “Same Love” with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, but I’d never probed further. Her live set was great, and I especially liked a new song called “Secrets.” I was actually slow to respond, but I finally just bought Mary’s debut album a couple weeks ago because I remembered liking her live. Seeing openers is always a great way to discover new bands, and you could be surprised by who you end up loving.
10. Movies & TV Shows
Music is a big deal in movies and TV shows. Just think of songs like “I Will Always Love You” or “My Heart Will Go On” and you’ll see. I wasn’t much of a movie buff during high school and college, but there have been occasions where I’ve been watching some film or TV show and heard a song I really liked. I actually decided to check out Lana Del Rey on YouTube (as previously mentioned) due to her cover of “Once Upon A Dream” in Maleficent. How many people here first heard a song like Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want To Be” or Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” on One Tree Hill? (As it turns out, I didn’t. I never watched the show, so I discovered those songs while watching VH1 on Saturday mornings.) While you’re getting entertainment on your TV or at the theater, pay attention to the music and see if any of it sticks with you.
As with films and sitcoms, commercials also put quite a bit of importance on music. Back when iTunes and iPods were first getting popular, I remember seeing their commercials with the dancing people all the time, and they were frequently playing hit songs I already loved. One song I did discover via TV advertisement is a track called “Doorway” by IO Echo. I got it in 2009 or so, a good 4 years before they even had a full-length album. To this day I love that song, even though I can’t for the life of me remember what the commercial was advertising.
12. Games & Toys
I’ll start with my little secret: In the early 2000s, my younger sister and I got a couple of My Scene dolls (by Mattel), and they happened to come with 5-song mix CDs. The Barbie doll came with a handful of R&B songs that I had little interest in, but the Chelsea doll did capture my attention: Her CD included songs by Garbage, Tonic, Stoke 9, The Starting Line, and a girl name Joanna Pacitti. I was obsessed with that little mix CD, and ended up buying CDs by four of the bands (Joanna Pacitti didn’t actually have an album out until three or four years later). Those four bands ended up forming my earliest music foundation, and I went from there to the aforementioned MTV and VH1. Thanks to that CD, I like alternative rock and pop rock and pop punk, and my love for these genres has only grown.
Most of you are probably too old for dolls. But maybe you still play a video game now and then? I was never into video games, but I did like this one snowboarding game that my cousin had. It introduced me to a couple of post-grunge and alternative metal songs such as “Don’t Be Afraid” by Stereomud.
One of my rather successful avenues for discovering music has been through the computer game, The Sims. My sister and I played that a lot even through high school, and we were pleased to discover that most of the songs that played on our characters’ radios were real. I discovered “Animal” by Neon Trees months before it became a hit single. The Sims (2 and 3) also led me to songs like “Counting On You” by The Kickdrums, “Cooler Than Me” by Mike Posner, “Bang Bang” by Melanie Fiona, and “Unstoppable” by Foxy Shazam. It’s great to discover random songs by artists you’ve never heard of, and I’m glad The Sims has such a great music curator.
13. Check Out “Best Of” Lists & Charts
If you’re into what’s popular, you may want to check out what’s doing well on the charts. You can look at singles or albums, and you have a variety of genres to focus on as well. Check out Billboard’s various radio charts or their Top 200 albums chart and see if anything catches your eye. You can also look at year-end charts that various music journalists and bloggers opine are the best. We at Hidden Jams had our own opinions about the best singles and albums of 2015, but other publications had their different tastes and very different best-of lists. Or maybe you want to look at a list of the best metal bands of all time? How about the best pop albums of the 21st century so far? There are all kinds of opinions and popularity contests out there, and with such diversity of taste, you could find all kinds of great new artists and albums based on these charts and lists.
14. Pay Attention to Blogs, Forums, and Social Media
I spend a lot of time scouting for new music online. Over the years I’ve been part of my fair share of music forums (both general and artist-specific), and I frequently read music blogs. And now here I am writing for one! In addition to keeping up with my favorite artists, I also like to find out what new music others are into. Thanks to the pop forum ATRL I’ve learned about Charli XCX – I eventually listened to her song “Breaking Up” and decided I needed to buy her album, Sucker. Two years ago, a few of my friends on Facebook were raving about a singer known as St. Vincent. I knew nothing about her, but I looked her up on YouTube and was strangely mesmerized by her single, “Digital Witness.” I bought her album and loved it. So the moral of the story is this: Always be willing to listen to the opinions of people, no matter how close you are or if you even know who they are. You can discover some totally different music and find you love it.
15. Look Up “Influencers”
So far I’ve mentioned mostly passive activities that can throw music at your unsuspecting ears. But here is a path that will take a bit more proaction. Being the music-obsessed nerd that I was, I decided that it was imperative that I know where my favorite artists got their musical inspiration. So I went to websites like AllMusic and watched interviews on YouTube, and I searched for the bands that influenced the singers I now spent all my time listening to. Avril Lavigne initially led me to Green Day (before I saw “American Idiot” on MTV). Through Green Day I discovered The Who, The Ramones, and Hüsker Dü. If you look at your favorite bands and singers and purposefully look up their influencers, you’ll not only improve your music history knowledge, you’ll also potentially expand your music library.
16. Look Up Similar Artists
Likewise, it’s also a great idea to look up similar artists. If you’re wary of listening to out-of-date, ancient music from your parents’ generation, “similar artists” may work better if you plan to stick in the same decade of origin. Around the same time that I decided to look up influencers, I also decided to search for related artists. I used AllMusic for my research, but there are plenty of other resources now; iTunes and Amazon like to inform me of bands and albums that are similar to what I’ve already purchased.
If you want more pop punk, you can look up Green Day and find their contemporaries, The Offspring, Weezer, Foo Fighters, and blink-182. If you like Vanessa Carlton’s piano pop, singer-songwriter style, you might find out her related artists include Sara Bareilles, Michelle Branch, or even the aforementioned Joanna Pacitti.
17. Look Up Artists Your Favorite Singers Mention
On a related note, you can also go directly to the source and see who your favorite singers and musicians are listening to lately. This way often leads to newer artists. Back in 2011, Kelly Clarkson mentioned in an interview that she was listening to a newer artist named Ellie Goulding. I should have had the foresight to look into her then, because Ellie ended up hitting it big with “Lights” only a few months later. More recently, Kelly mentioned her obsession with Tove Lo and Lana Del Rey; Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson has also professed her love of Lana Del Rey’s music.
It’s always great to listen to interviews with your favorite artists and see if they mention any new artists, albums, or songs they’re playing a lot. You may find some great new music that happens to be in the same genre you already enjoy.
18. If You Work In Music, Give New Discoveries A Chance
This one’s pretty specific, but it worked for me. Back in 2013, I had the opportunity to work at a new music news website in Brooklyn for a few months. I’m so glad I did: Not only did I gain some valuable experience in writing about music professionally, but I also got to discover all kinds of bands and singers I’d never head of before. I found myself listening to and writing about music that was new and exciting to me, and discovered artists like Chvrches, Cults, Temples, Haim, and Willis Earl Beal. I also finally gave bands I’d heard of a chance – like Depeche Mode and Jane’s Addiction. Not everyone will find themselves working at an awesome music company, but if you do, expect to discover all kinds of amazing music. Otherwise, be sure to check out different kinds of music websites – big and small, indie and mainstream.
19. Proactively Search for New Music
If you have a clear idea of what you want, you can also take a really proactive role and search for new music with purpose. One example sticks out in my memory: Back in mid-2008 I had just finished high school and was getting ready to start college. In the previous 4 or 5 years I’d rapidly gained tons of music and new favorite bands and singers, but I listened to my music so much that I’d worn it out. I was bored of my old favorites and ready for something totally new. My sister and I sat down and thought about what kind of music we’d like to add to our collection, and ultimately decided to search for a good modern British rock band. Very specific, I know.
We went to Wikipedia and looked at who some of the most popular British rock bands were. One band name looked familiar, so we promptly went to iTunes to listen to 30-second samples of Muse songs. We liked how it sounded, and I immediately bought “Starlight.” I listened to that beautiful, perfect song over and over, and quickly resolved to buy all their albums. Based on just the one song, I ended up at the record store with four Muse albums in hand. Eight years later and they’re still among my very favorite bands. It’s amazing what you can find if you put the effort into finding it.
20. Be Impulsive
If you’re feeling really wild and crazy, why not make a completely random impulse buy? Or listen. Next time you’re at your local record store, pick up a random CD by some artist you may have never heard of, or know almost nothing about. If you’re into digital purchases, click on something unexpected. If you’re into streaming, or simply don’t want to waste your hard-earned money on something you may not like, get onto Spotify or YouTube or whatever other music service you prefer, and listen to an artist you don’t know. Be impulsive, and you may be in for a great surprise.
What do you think? All 20 of these music discovery methods worked for me, and you should try some new ones and see what you find. What other ways do you discover music? Let us know in the comments!
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